Tuesday, 16 October 2012

THE CREMORNE PLEASURE GARDENS...

The Dancing Platform at Cremorne Gardens  - by Phoebus Levin, 1864


Between 1845 and 1877, many fashionable - and many disreputable - Victorians would have shared the delights of Cremorne Pleasure Gardens. Once situated on the banks of The Thames between Chelsea Harbour and the King's Road, today very little remains to show the gardens' splendour - only a restored pair of ornate gates and a strip of ground near Cheyne Walk, along with two jetties where boats once moored to deposit those who arrived on The Thames.




For the entrance fee of one shilling, London's grimy streets could be left behind to stroll at one's leisure across green lawns, past elaborate fountains and a lake, while shaded by elegant elm trees.



A circus was later converted into a permanent theatre with burlesques, ballets, even operettas, or - as described in a scene from the VV's new novel, Elijah's Mermaid, a viewing of the Beckwith Frogs; a daring act of aquatic prowess where men clad in nothing but 'fleshings and drawers' performed feats in a large glass aquarium, while -

'...  each of us ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ with glee when presented with ‘The Beckwith Frog … one of the world’s finest acrobats’, who dived into the water, gyrating among all the goldfish and eels, or else walked back and forth on his hands while consuming a bottle of milk in one – all the time with his head completely submerged!'




Professer Beckwith also gave lessons at the Lambeth Swimming Club, so any who happened to be inspired could take the plunge and dive right in - perhaps even auditioning for the act. But, while still enjoying a day at Cremorne, the audience could leave his show and visit the Hermit Cave, or get lost in the maze or the fairy bower or, if their appetites were up, dine in the glamorous banqueting hall. While sipping from a cup of tea, or a glass of sherry or lemonade, they could relax in loungers which were set beside the Pagoda. Enclosed in this elegant Chinese construction musicians would play all the popular tunes while couples whirled around them upon a circular dance stand.




By day children enjoyed the fun, while men politely tipped their hats to respectable women walking by. Later, when evening and darkness fell, the pagoda and trees would be glittering with thousands of little gas lights - a circle of shimmering crystal.




There were firework displays, and a hot air balloon to rise above the spectacle. But like moths being lured around a flame, a decadent crowd flew in at night. Many Londoners abandoned their prudery to play on 'Satan's hornpipe', partaking in nocturnal pleasures of a decidedly adult nature. As the clamour and numbers of prostitutes grew so the gardens' reputation reduced until, after many earnest complaints from neighbours in the area, Cremorne was finally closed down - its glories and al fresco fun now no more than a distant memory.




8 comments:

  1. I have been fascinated over the years in the rise and rise of the pleasure gardens, especially Vauxhall and Rosherville. For people who loved gardens, music, food, wine, learned company and (apparently) not so learned company, the gardens were unbeatable.

    Jane Austen’s World blog said there were at least 200 outdoor pleasure gardens and tea gardens around London by the Edwardian era. Yet Cremorne lasted such a short time. I wonder what went so badly wrong.

    thanks for the link
    Hels
    http://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com.au/2009/09/c18th-pleasure-gardens-fashions-food.html

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  2. Silly disreputable Victorians, ruining the pleasure gardens! Very informative piece- thanks so much for writing these!

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  3. Thank you, Hels and Clementine. I had great fun researching Cremorne, though I'm sure there is only the tip of the iceberg.

    There is a lovely room at the London Museum where they have reconstructed a scene from a Pleasure Garden. It must have been a wonderfully sociable thing to wander around the gardens and shows, whereas today we take our children to Teddington World of Adventures or Legoland, which I'm sure are great fun for the children, but less 'mingling' for the adults.

    I suppose the original gardens were also a great way for young women and men who would not normally meet in their daily routines to have the chance to eye each other up. But Cremorne really became too raucous and immoral. Lots of prostitution and thievery, and I'm only guessing here but the real impetus behind the closure was probably the wealthy neighbours who must have been driven almost mad by all of the noisy crowds leaving the grounds in the early hours - not to mention the banging of the firework displays - even if they only were once a week.

    For some really interesting newspaper/magazine archives regarding Cremorne Gardens, I recommend www.victorianlondon.org where Lee Jackson has put together a wealth of contemporary information. Some fascinating first hand accounts.

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  4. Those gates are still looking good. Do they open out onto the street or are they somewhere within what is left of the park?

    There are some interesting notes on the area towards the end of this book:

    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=jSiQEVNLMMoC

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  5. The more I read about Pleasure Gardens - the more I want to know. My appetite was whetted by a recent visit to the Foundling Museum where they had a fascinating exhibition about Vauxhall.

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  6. Wow. How interesting. Yeah, that's too bad it closed. It reminds me a bit of the Huntington Library in Southern California----without the adult entertainment of course. http://www.huntington.org/

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  7. Pope wrote about these pleasure gardens a century earlier. In one poem he wrote:

    Asham'd to own they gave delight before,
    Reduc'd to feign it, when they give no more:
    As Hags hold Sabbaths, less for joy than spight,
    So these their merry, miserable Night;
    Still round and round the Ghosts of Beauty glide,
    And haunt the places where their Honour dy'd.

    See how the World its Veterans rewards!
    A Youth of Frolics, an old Age of Cards;
    Fair to no purpose, artful to no end,
    Young without Lovers, old without a Friend;
    A Fop their Passion, but their Prize a Sot;
    Alive, ridiculous, and dead, forgot!

    (Alexander Pope. 'To a Lady').

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  8. That's wonderful - and very damning. Thank you, Rehan.

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